News from the field! A mini photo blog from AHA Northern II course student Kyle Canter

Art and Politics too (2): In a second post inspired by his almost daily walk across Trafalgar Square, Richard Stemp considers the historical background to the great art of the Dutch Golden age.

My musings on Katharina Fritsch’s Hahn/Cock (see the previous post!) reminded me of a recent visit to the newly, and splendidly, refurbished Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. While many will flock to the works of the Golden Age, the Rembrandts and Vermeers (and you should flock, but get there early!), I fell in love with the display of Medieval and Renaissance art, which takes up one half of the basement. Looking at just three (or maybe four) of the exhibits should help you map out the progress of Amsterdam’s history from its earliest formation to its role as a Spanish colony, an essential precursor to that burst of creativity that was the Golden Age.

The very first piece you encounter is a Romanesque relief commissioned by Petronella, Countess of Holland, for the Benedictine abbey-church at Egmond.  She is shown as a donor figure on the right of the relief, whereas her son, Dirk VI, occupies the Position of Honour on the left – but then, she was only the Regent, her son, still in his minority, was the Count.  The County of Holland, a state of the Holy Roman Empire, is first mentioned by name in 1101 but emerges from the County of Frisia (roughly equivalent to the contemporary Provinces of North Holland and Friesland). The first Count of Holland is generally considered to be Dirk I, who inherited lands from his father, or step father (it’s a long way back, and even history finds it hard to remember some things) Gerolf, Count of Frisia, in 896 – although as yet it was not called Holland. Gerolf himself had been given lands by the last of the Carolingian Emperors, Charles the Fat (the names are not always encouraging). Dirk was, like Gerolf, rewarded for good service by King Charles the Simple (see what I mean?) with a gift of the Church of Egmond, which he re-founded as an Abbey – and it was for this abbey that Petronella commissioned the stone tympanum.

The anonymous Tympanum from the abbey church of Egmond, c. 1122 - c. 1133

Her husband had died in 1121 when their eldest son was only seven, and Petronella served as Regent until he reached his majority at the age of fifteen, some eight years later. However, that didn’t stop her – Dirk was apparently not ambitious, and was relatively weak: Petronella held onto the reins of power until her favourite son Floris was old enough to rule, although an initial burst of sibling rivalry ended with Dirk and Floris ruling side by side. Nevertheless, the period of the Regency helps us to date the relief – c. 1122-1133.

Details of six of the ten remaining Pleurants from the tomb of Isabella of Bourbon, attributed to Renier van Thienen, c. 1475 - c. 1476

The House of Holland died out in 1299, and was taken over by the House of Avesnes, who ruled as Counts of Holland and Hainault (no, not the one on the Central Line) until they were succeeded by the Wittelsbachs in 1345. And then, after a war of succession at the beginning of the 15th Century, Holland was taken over by Phillip the Good (the names get better) in 1432, and Holland became part of Burgundy. Phillip was succeeded by Charles the Bold, and Charles by Mary the Rich (see what I mean?). Mary’s mother, Isabella of Bourbon died in 1465, twelve years before Mary inherited the titles, and just before she did inherit she commissioned what must have been a splendid tomb for her mother, surrounded by 24 pleurants  or ’weepers’ cast in bronze. Today only ten survive, and are housed in the Rijksmuseum just round the corner from the Egmond Tympanum. Attributed to Renier von Thiene, they represent members of Isabella’s family as well as her ancestors: the fact that the latter were already dead may explain why they do not appear grief-stricken, and not even weeping, as their name might suggest. Their clothes, richly represented and intricately cast and chased, are rather old fashioned for the 1460s, possibly because they were inspired by figures on other, lost tombs.

Details of six of the ten remaining Pleurants from the tomb of Isabella of Bourbon, attributed to Renier van Thienen, c. 1475 - c. 1476

Mary herself married Maximilian Archduke of Austria and Holy Roman Emperor. Their son, Phillip the Handsome (still looking good – indeed, in this case, looking particularly good) married Joanna the Mad (ah… not so good). Admittedly she didn’t go mad until his death in 1506, by which time she had inherited the Kingdom of Castile (and Leon) from her mother Isabella and went on to inherit Aragon from her father Ferdinand. Phillip and Joanna’s son Charles ruled with her as King of the newly united Spain from 1516, and became Holy Roman Emperor when his grandfather Maximilian died in 1519: this was Charles V, and his realm included Holland. The Rijskmuseum has several treasures relating to his reign, ranging from a rather wonderful tapestry to a number of knives and a fork. The complexity of his inheritance is expressed in his coat of arms, visible on all these objects – and these are relatively simple versions. The arms of Castile and Leon are the lions and castles at top left, for example, with Aragon top right. The double-headed eagle behind the coat of arms represents the Holy Roman Empire.

Tapestry with the arms of Emperor Charles V. Brussels, c. 1540-1555

 

In 1556 Charles abdicated, handing the Holy Roman Empire his younger brother Ferdinand, and the Kingdom of Spain to his son, Phillip II. Unlike Charles, Phillip was entirely Spanish in upbringing, and had no real interest in his northern provinces. This signalled increasing unrest: more and more parts of Europe were adopting Protestantism and a wave of religiously inspired destruction swept though the Netherlands in 1566 – the Iconoclast Fury.  One victim of this was the tomb of Isabella of Bourbon. The main body of the tomb has ended up in Antwerp Cathedral, whereas the pleurants were pulled off and disappeared, only to resurface in Amsterdam in 1691 where they were bought by the burgomasters, who thought they represented the Counts and Countesses of Holland (maybe Dirk VI and Petronella were thought to be among their number).

A knife belonging to Emperor Charles V (anonymous) 1532

Two years after the Iconoclast Fury the Eighty Years War began, and in 1581 the Act of Abjuration officially deposed Phillip II. It was this struggle for independence, finally achieved with the Peace of Münster in 1648, which created the background for the famous art of the Golden Age. So when you get to the Rijksmuseum (I suggest 8.58am), and have spent some time on your own with the Vermeers (which you can, if you go straight there), then head back downstairs to the basement. Vermeer wouldn’t be possible without it.

A knife belonging to Emperor Charles V (anonymous) 1532

Lights in the Landscape – The New Trend in Land Art and Installation by Anna Fothergill

My recent research has brought to light (pardon the pun) a trend which seems to be gaining popularity with both artists and the general public; the use of lights in ways and places they do not belong. It seems to me, there is a fascination in the collective artistic world of the way electric light can be manipulated in art. This is being done in many ways, such as in  Jessica Lloyd-Jones’s glass human organs containing neon lights or any display from Gent’s yearly Light Festival, an event which is definitely on my bucket list. However, I think it is the subtler use of light that appeals to the general public. Specifically, stimulated lighting in a natural setting.

Copyright Barry Underwood
Copyright Barry Underwood

The placement of ethereal shapes in a landscape creates a juxtaposition of a traditionally urban feature and nature, yet when it’s done well, there does not seem to be anything unnatural about it. The work of an artist like Barry Underwood perfectly illustrates how well this creation of an electric environment works in beautiful harmony, despite all logic.

Copyright Barry Underwood

Works such as these, whilst falling under the category of ‘land art’, also span many other mediums, and this could explain why it has gained such popularity. This fascination has even seeped its way into national advertising, like Ikea’s recent advert. These light installations are sculptures, surreal photographs and now advertising agents. Underwood’s work seeks to turn the everyday into something unique and unusual. These images, to me, are reminiscent of fairy tales, of something magical happening away from the every day world. They are scenes from a mysterious play, and each installation has its own dream-like narrative, which the viewer cannot help but be drawn to.

Copyright Barry Underwood

The collision of the material and the natural world generates a refined contrast.

Copyright Barry Underwood

The strange beauty of light cannot be captured to its fullest extent but this has not stopped artists from trying and at the heart of this use of light, we essentially see an example of the human condition, choosing light over darkness. Barry Underwood’s lights in a night landscape brilliantly brings together all aspects of installation, photography and a basic human instinct.

Copyright Barry Underwood
Copyright Barry Underwood

Tumblr and the New Generation – Frankie Dytor takes a look into our ‘period eye’

Visual culture in the twenty-first century is profoundly different to anything that has ever gone before it. This may seem like an obvious statement – everyone, of course, is aware of the effect that new technologies have had on our perception of art. But do we really understand the influence this has had on the nature of our ‘period’ eye, as Baxandall would say?

 

According to Baxandall, in order to best comprehend and analyse a piece of art we must understand the cultural conditions from which it was produced. (This theory, as many of you will know, he applied most famously perhaps to Renaissance Florence). It is, of course, extremely difficult – perhaps even impossible – to develop a true and unbiased understanding our own period eye.  This blog post – rather fearlessly then – is a small attempt to do just that!

Tumblr: shaping our generation's aesthetic?

 

To propose the media site tumblr as a source for shaping our culture’s period eye is maybe an exaggeration. After all, how many people does it really reach? Can we claim that it really has any effect on the production of art? Well, tumblr has an estimated 216.3 million viewers each month, with currently 108.9 million blogs and counting. Granted, this is a tiny percentage of the Western world. But it seems that those who use tumblr are generally more likely to be involved in artistic processes.

When something is treated in nail art, you know it must be popular

Firstly, it provides a platform in which budding new artists can showcase their art. There are an abundance of blogs which either belong to a specific artist, or, as is the unique nature of tumblr, display an assortment of the art that one person – artist or layman – enjoys. The effect of this is many fold. Primarily, it means that even those who do not specifically create or commission art are now being involved in the art ‘market’, if not in a commercial sense then certainly in terms of contemporary taste and sensibility. We are all aware of the profound influence of the media on young minds in shaping issues such as body image and sensationalism, but have we ever considered its effect on the aesthetic of today? Such bloggers have a huge power in shaping taste, particularly if we consider the susceptible nature of tumblr’s main demographic:teens and those in their early twenties. Its potential here is precisely why Yahoo deemed it worthy of a $1.1 billion investment.

 

Because anyone can reblog an image, tumblr may be seen as an ultimately democratic site which strips away the elitism so often attached to art. Even a thirteen year old from a small village in the countryside may become part of a cutting-edge art circle. But perhaps this carries many inherent dangers; do we want this to be the case? Is art in a sense degraded through such mass proliferation?

Maybe bloggers are the new Academicians...

Maybe the reverence and sanctity of art is slowly being degraded by mass culture. But is that really such a problem? Prints have been in circulation since the fifteenth century, although they in some sense only proved to re-enforce the distinction between art for the masses and ‘high’ art. Sites like tumblr treat both equally, and it is the viewer’s individual taste, rather than their  economic means, that determines whether they want it to be included as part of their own unique artistic profile.

 

Tumblr ultimately serves as an example of the changing way in which we may perceive art in an age where politics, art, food, fashion and more are regularly placed side by side.  Multi-media now encourages the world to engage with ‘high art’ on a day-to-day basis, rather than placing it on a pedestal. At the same time, Tumblr encourages all things to be viewed as potentially containing artistic significance. And for that, in my mind at least, it is hugely important.

Fancy entering into the world of tumblr? A few favourites……

caravaggista.tumblr.com

cestlavieparis.tumblr.com

erynlou.tumblr.com

jesusisperdu.tumblr.com

lustik.tumblr.com

r-i-n-o.tumblr.com

standingatadistance.tumblr.com

unefemmeparfaite.tumblr.com

And the most bizarre of them all….

scorpiondagger.tumblr.com

 

Extreme Weather: AHA tutor Richard Stemp goes on a pilgrimage to find a relic, a sculpture and a curious tradition whose origins are frozen in time.

The English are internationally famed for talking about the weather. Personally, I think this is the effect of English politeness: one isn’t supposed to talk about religion, politics or money, the weather is all that is left to us. But the weather in the British Isles is remarkably varied, and, as has become all too obvious, can be appalling. But however much water has fallen from the sky in the past month or so, it has been remarkably mild. The same cannot be said of the winter of 1962-63, famed for its heavy snows (and a corresponding boom in the birth rate in the following autumn).  But if we thought it was bad in England, it was worse on the continent: around Lake Constance in South West Germany (the Bodensee to the locals) the temperature was below zero from November to March, and in February it settled around -22°C. So cold, in fact, and for so long, that the lake froze over.

 

It wasn’t the first time that this had happened: the earliest recorded occurrence was in 875, by which time Benedictines had settled on what was (usually) the relatively inaccessible island of Reichenau, further west, on another part of the lake. Seegefrörni – the local dialect word (plural) for the freezing of the lake – gradually increased in frequency, peaking in the 15th and 16th centuries: the lake froze over seven times in each of these centuries. At some point – and nobody is entirely sure when – a curious tradition developed: a relic of St John the Evangelist was taken over the ice from one side of the lake to the other.

 

St John the Evangelist, attributed to Jakob Russ, early 16th Century. By now, the reliquary is back in Switzerland in the Abbey Church of Münsterlingen. The abbey closed long ago: its buildings now house one of Switzerland’s major psychiatric hospitals.

In the early 16th century a reliquary bust was carved and painted to contain a bone of Jesus’s favourite disciple. It is attributed to Jakob Russ, a sculptor active in Ravensburg, less than 30km from Hagnau on the Bodensee, one of the relic’s homes. Like the work of other Northern European painters and sculptors – think of Rogier van der Weyden or Tilman Riemenschneider (and if you don’t know his work, look him up!) – Russ is not happy to settle with the generic idealised faces so favoured by the Italians, who portrayed their holy subjects with an almost geometric perfection. He modulates every surface, giving the sense that the face was modelled in clay rather than carved in wood. He’s not a pretty boy, and would never be confused – as Dan Brown notoriously did – for Mary Magdalene. His intense presence, with a repressed sorrow in the eyes, suggests that Russ was imagining a detail from the crucifixion, and John’s suffering vigil at Christ’s left hand.

 

The first recorded example of the procession took place exactly 441 years ago, on 17 February 1573, although the tradition may well have begun earlier. The reliquary bust was carried in procession from Münsterlingen, on the Swiss side of the lake, to Hagnau, on the German side, accompanied by 100 people. The event is recorded on the base of the reliquary bust, although the inscription is far more recent, including, as it does, a reference to another ‘translation’ of the relic during the French War of 1796 (think Napoleon), when it was restored by F.X. Faivre. On the back (not illustrated!) it also mentions the procession of 1830. Although there was a seegefrörne in 1880 the ice was not hard enough – or thick enough – to warrant a procession.

 

The inscription on the base of the reliquary

The last procession took place just over 51 years ago, on 12 February 1963, and news even reached the British press. A report was published in The Sphere (an illustrated weekly newspaper published between 1900 and 1964) on 2 March. There was no Twitter then, and news could take two whole weeks. Rather than the 100 faithful who followed the procession back in 1573, this time there were over 3000: a contemporary photograph shows them winding away into the distance, leaving the German shore of the lake to walk a 9km route across the ice. Borne aloft on the shoulders of two of the faithful, the relic has remained in Switzerland ever since: with climate change who knows when the lake will ever freeze again?

 

12 February 1963, the sculpture of St John the Evangelist is carried across the ice.

I had been wanting to see this relic of an ancient tradition ever since I first visited the Bodensee three years ago, and finally made a pilgrimage to Münsterlingen last month. It wasn’t there. It seems that, with climate change, the locals have given up on the possibility of another seegefrörne, and to mark the 50th anniversary of its last translation, the relic had been taken around the lake by road. Or maybe it crossed on one of the two regular ferries that transport modern traffic 24/7 (even they had to stop in 1963). So last week, I went to Hagnau, where I finally found it, boldly eyeballing the visitors to its own exhibition.

 

An aerial view of Hagnau in 1963, with pilgrims disappearing into the distance at the top left.

I can’t help thinking the locals are being a little impatient – I mean, fifty years? It’s not that long. It was 113 years between the last two seegefrörni, so there’s a while to go yet. And ‘climate change’ does not have the same implication as ‘global warming’. One impact is likely to be an increase of more extreme weather events, and that could include more winter snow and extremely low temperatures. I’d start stocking up on jumpers now if I were you.

 

 

Marle Place and its Sculpture Show – by Catriona Grant

 

If you wander to the outskirts of Horsmonden, a small Kentish village, you might stumble upon Marle Place, a privately owned house whose gardens are open to the public. The property belongs to a keen gardener and his artist wife, and each year hosts a sculpture show, exhibiting work by local artists at affordable prices.

The exhibition has been creatively curated, with thoughtful placement of the sculpture around the garden. Brass poppy seeds are placed in tall flower beds, almost camouflaged by the surrounding plant life, while gigantic, vibrant flowers emerge from various hedges and bushes around the garden.

In the pool, a metal seahorse sculpture sits half submerged by the water. It’s placement is playfully inviting with its silver reflection rippling around it. The bronze figure of a woman bent over her knees also complements an area of water in the garden, particularly in the fluidity of her hair cascading over her body.

 

The main lawn beneath the house is dominated by a large, low branched tree, beneath which sits a bronze sculpture of a young girl whispering to a butterfly. She sits cross-legged amongst the crocus bulbs that are sprouting from the ground around her. This seamless integration of art and nature makes the sculpture appear for a moment as though real, and only after several more glances across the lawn did one realise that the girl was a statue.

 

 

The array of works on offer mainly deal with themes of nature, or are figurative representations. One of the most striking of these was a work of two standing figures formed of rusted metal machine components, recalling the work of both Anthony Gormley and Eduardo Paolozzi. The figures face in opposite directions but are not entirely conceived in the round. As the machinery curves around to the figures’ backs it breaks off, leaving partial shells that suggest the figures are in fact halves of the same body, though the three-dimensionality of the building blocks, and the angle at which you approach the work, disguises this.

 

Gormley: Learning to See, and Paolozzi: Daedalus on Wheels

 

This sculpture show is by no means the only artistic venture that occurs at Marle Place. One of the out buildings acts as a permanent art gallery with changing exhibitions, again showcasing a cross-section of local talent. Art classes are also held in the grounds, teaching watercolour painting in the gardens that act as the students’ subjects. Stoneware, textiles and student art shows also take place during the year, with a genuine interest in displaying new and exciting design. The show exemplifies the aim of the owners to celebrate and support local artists, providing a forum for artistic appreciation within the surrounding community.

 

Images my own, and courtesy of: Fiona Grant, http://www.jesus.cam.ac.uk/college-life/art-sculpture/, and Google Images.

 

 

Flesh and Bone: Moore and Bacon at the Ashmolean by AHA Alum Frankie Dytor

Bacon and Moore are displayed side by side for the first time at the Ashmolean

Francis Bacon and Henry Moore are hefty subjects for an exhibition. Both giants of modern Art in their own right, the combination was a promising one. But other than a shared era, could any more but tentatives links be drawn between the two? Such were my feelings on walking through the balcony corridor to the exhibition. The introductory posters did little to dispel these fears, highlighting Bacon’s lack of training in comparison to Moore’s academic credentials.

The first point of comparison given was the shared influence of Michelangelo. But what they drew from the Renaissance master is clearly very different. For Bacon, it was in the beauty of the male form, ever edged with the thrill of homoeroticism. For Moore however, it was in the treatment of material. In an interview with David Sylvester (the exhibition has a board of every newspaper clipping or article in which a comparison between the titular artists is made) he is quoted as saying “[Michelangelo] used a contrast between a highly finished part and a part that is not so finished, and this is something one likes”. Whilst not a particularly insightful comment onto Michelangelo’s work, is it nonetheless useful for establishing the key areas that Moore drew from.

What I had never personally noticed before the exhibition, or certainly not in such an extremity, was the grotesqueness present in so much of Moore’s work. Clearly, Bacon’s work is saturated with the grotesque. His figures are stripped of their form to become pure dripping matter. The only thing that saves them from total dissolution is the structure of the “room space“, to borrow a phrase from TJ Clarke. But Moore – he had always been the lover of smooth, curvilinear forms to me. Faced with ‘Woman‘ (1957 – 88) the polite classicism vanishes. Flesh bulges, almost to the point of oozing, but there is a horrible stillness in her mutilation – with no arms and legs she is totally trapped. The body has become master of the mind, and there is a kind of visceral elasticity to her body.

Moore's image of fertility

Brutality is, therefore, a common theme. A brief socio-historical context offers an easy answer to this – the presence of the Second World War at formative times for both of the artists. Some drawings by Moore during the air raids of the Blitz are even included. Yet there is an inescapable feeling that it cannot be so simply explained. In the shelter drawings, for example, there is an eternal quality to the figures. It is not three women huddled together, but the three fates. They almost all shrouded, personifications of some everlasting doom. Bacon’s work perhaps feels more contemporary, if only for the unremitting boldness of his colour.

Bacon's 'Portrait of Henrietta Moraes' - almost abrasive in tone

How much the exhibition worked as a comparative exercise, I am not sure. Certainly, there are links to be made between the two, most evidently in their influences. The real strength of the exhibition however is the quality of works that have been chosen, particularly for Moore. The middle room, in particular, is a staggering testament to the virtuosity of the pair. It is, for me at least, British Art at its absolute best.

 

Saints: Alive or Dead? AHA alum Helena Roy visits Michael Landy’s exhibition at the National Gallery

Few artists see their work exhibited at the National Gallery during their lifetime. To many, the idea of modern art at the London landmark is disconcerting – a genre that belongs to the imposing, edgier Tate Modern across the Thames.

But Michael Landy’s Saints Alive exhibition is far from traditional. The unpredictable artist is famed for destroying all his possessions in 2001, in his Break Down exhibition – but not before meticulously cataloguing all 7,227 in detail. Landy admits contemporary art is regarded as an eyesore by stereotypical frequenters of the National, before adding: ‘I like eyesores’. Despite this avant-garde background, Landy was chosen as the Rootstein Hopkins Associate Artist in residence at the gallery in 2010.

The only brief Landy was given was that his exhibition had to engage with the National Gallery’s collection. Thus the exhibition is juxtaposed to classical works, highlighting Landy’s intensely modern interpretation. Its violent nature could have been deleterious to understanding the paintings that inspired him, but in fact it brings out the serenity of the originals – making you to appreciate the pain behind the expressive beauty. Landy unites polar opposites – from Carlo Crivelli to the 1970s kinetic sculpture of Jean Tinguely.

Carlo Crivelli’s Saint Lucy (about 1476)

Landy had never visited the National Gallery prior to his appointment, and regarded it as ‘stuffy’. By responding to the gallery’s collection as an outsider, he has utterly broken that. Michael Craig-Martin has called Landy a ‘sophisticated innocent’. As a newcomer, he was drawn to the saints and martyrs; as an ‘innocent’ he noticed the physical and emotional details over the theological. He has made the saints kinetic in a way not seen before.

Landy first became fascinated with the saints when he repeatedly saw Saint Catherine with her wheel (Saint Catherine of Alexandria with a Donor (1480-1500), by Pintoricchio)

Saints Alive is an experience. Health and safety notices are pointed out before you visit (curators ‘wanted to avoid the torso of Christ hitting the public in the face’). I jumped out of my skin after pushing an innocent-looking pedal which made a gigantic sculpture of Saint Apollonia rock fiercely after bashing her mouth with pliers.

The concentrated exhibition contains seven huge sculptures, climbing up like distorted fairground figures, mimicking horror-movie dolls. A personal favourite was the body of Saint Francis – gigantic and kneeling – with an industrious, rusted crane constantly taking of his body to try and give. It was here that I felt the symbolism of saints the strongest.

The Stigmatisation of Saint Francis,1437-44, by Sassetta, which inspired my favourite sculpture in the exhibition
Michael Landy with his Saint Francis of Assisi sculpture, my favourite in the collection

Statues are assembled with one of Landy’s artistic hallmarks: refuse. He has scoured car boot sales and flea markets, accumulating old machinery to construct the works. Landy says he feels ‘like Baron Frankenstein, digging around getting various body parts from different parts of the Renaissance.’ In a short film we see torsos sawn apart to make his sculptures – a martyrdom of the saints yet again, this time in the name of art.

Accompanying collages combine elements of Picasso’s distortion with classical painting and greyscale line-drawing. Components are made bold and surreal on blank white canvas – psychedelic cogs tear renaissance torsos apart.

Michael Landy at work on Saints Alive

Violence pervades the exhibition. Landy has worked solely with martyrdom: he satirizes the arrow piercing Saint Sebastian’s body by multiplying hundreds of them across one perfectly sculpted torso; fate is arbitrarily decided on a spiked martyr’s fortune wheel, inspired by Saint Catherine; Saint Francis doubles as a donation box, and strikes himself with a cross when coins are received, as if pain is what the giver wants. I was left confused about what the overt brutality meant – modern media may anaesthetise society to violence to an extent, but in Saints Alive it seemed almost unnecessarily explicit.

Paired with religion, the violence engenders uneasy tension. Landy expected religious controversy. He fell in love with the saints’ stories as an artist – not a Christian – affectionately calling them ‘barmy’. Martyrdom is inherently paradoxical: the saints seem to destroy themselves in the name of furthering faith in God, but by doing so in such brutal fashions often diminish belief.

As mirrored in his sculptures, Landy thinks the saints have been discarded. He argues ‘we’ve forgotten about them and they’ve been junked, really.’ Saints Alive tries to regenerate them for another audience. The saints of Saints Alive seem desperate: the sculptures begin to destroy themselves with the force of pedals and buttons visitors push, worn out trying to prove their faith.

Landy said of Saints Alive that ‘you can’t dictate how people interpret artwork’. He was unsure of what people’s reaction would be, and yet I am unsure of my own. The vitality Landy has brought to the National is exhilarating and fascinating, but the saints don’t necessarily seem more ‘alive’ to me. Landy has transformed fragments from altarpieces into destructive modern art: to me, this made the saints seem deader than ever.

The sculptures of Saints Alive

‘Saints Alive’ by Michael Landy is exhibited at the National Gallery until 24 November 2013.

To discover the paintings in the National Gallery that inspired Landy’s work, visit www.nationalgallery.org.uk/visiting/printed-trails/michael-landy-trail.

With thanks to the National Gallery, the Guardian and the Telegraph for photos.

HOW TO BE ROMAN: Lucy Chiswell’s top ten substitutes for tourist traps in the eternal city

 

2) THE MUSEUM

Right, second up, it’s the museum. Museums are to me what the gelato is to Italy: life support.

Now, there’s no question that the Vatican Museums are a truly magical place. Knowing you are standing under the same roof as our very own Pope (as well as standing on top of the 15 billion popes that have been before), whilst simultaneously gazing into a Michelangelo-ey abyss can sure enough only be experienced in this very spot. But as a Vatican tour guide, doing that 3 times a week for 12 months of the year can wear thin; so it’s not surprising that I alerted my museum sensors to look elsewhere for satisfaction from inanimate friends.

Thanks to bugbog.com

This section of my top ten frustrates me. There are 5000 museums in Italy so where the diavolo am I meant to start? Answer: The Capitoline Museums.

If you want a less hectic, less sweaty, less churchy version of the Vatican, head to the Campidoglio. Like the majority of Italy, this piazza was designed by Michelangelo Buonarotti and finds itself plonked right on top of the Capitoline Hill. If you are successful in escaping ‘death by vespa’ in Piazza Venezia, you will make your way to the museums by ascending a set of sloping steps and arriving in what can only be described as geometric heaven. Paninied between Rome’s busiest piazza and the bustling Roman Forum, the Campidoglio, which forms a sort of internal courtyard to the museum buildings, is the kind of place you want to hang out if you love a stationery shop… if you know what I mean. It has the symmetrical perfection of St. Peter’s square, but on a smaller scale, and good grief there’s no queue to go inside. If heaven isn’t like this then we’re all wasting our time.

The Capitoline Museums are split: Palazzo Nuovo and Palazzo dei Conservatori. I am not going to attempt to walk you through the whole lot, but as always, it is vital I mention some of the ‘big names’. You’ve got Bernini, Caravaggio, Tintoretto, Veronese, Van Dyck. You’ll see Rome’s iconic bronze of Romulus and Remus suckling on the she wolf, the famous Roman sculpture of Marcus Aurelius on horseback (a copy of which is in the centre of the Campidoglio) as well as hoards of other delicious Roman, Greek and Egyptian treasures. But for me, it’s the Dying Gaul that steals the show: a manifestation of perfection and pain in marble. One of those sculptures you sometimes like to just visit… as a friend… you know?

The Dying Gaul
The Dying Gaul
Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius

Even if you visit the Capitoline Museums just for their spaciousness, their peacefulness, or to pick up a date from one of their over-friendly guards, I can assure you that you will come away overwhelmed by its contents and thirsty for more.